Saturday marks a championship game like few have seen before. An MLS Cup Final between the Columbus Crew and the Seattle Sounders. But this game goes deeper than that. Not from past results. Not from battling cities on who’s a better United States Men’s National Team host. But rather how both teams became successful through one person.
That person? Sigi Schmid.
“I love talking about Sig, that’s an easy one for me,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer started during his media availability leading up to the MLS Cup Final. “You take a look at that team when Sigi first started, he talked about how he had made it a rebuilding project and it took him a few years to get it started. And that last year came together in ‘08, and it was a great way to send him our direction, and have him start our franchise after the success he had in Columbus.”
Schmid starting his Columbus tenure in 2006 after taking over from Greg Andrulis. Schmid took a team that went 11-16-5 in 2005 and turned it around to fit his style. Although the first two years were rough on the Black & Gold, the success finally paid off in 2008 when the Crew was the best team in MLS, winning the Supporters’ Shield before defeating the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Cup Final held in Los Angeles, California.
This was the team’s first MLS Cup in its first trip to the Final. It was orchestrated by Schmid and is still remembered in Columbus today.
“When you look at 2008, that’s a season that’s talked about, that’s celebrated,” current Crew head oach Caleb Porter said this week. “I think it’s been an inspiration for our group this year and certainly it would be meaningful with Sigi being the coach of that 2008 team.”
Porter was fortunate enough to learn from the man that he would soon become a pain in his side, by taking a two-hour drive to Columbus during his coaching days at Akron University. He came to MAPFRE Stadium to watch the Crew, but also to learn from Schmid.
Then along came Seattle.
The new expansion side selected the German to lead the team in its first season in 2009 after he left the Crew. Seattle — part of the Cascade region in the Pacific Northwest — came in the league as the new guys, but it was Sigi who led the Rave Green to seven playoff appearances, four U.S. Open Cup titles and a Supporter’s Shield in 2014.
Schmid, is a huge factor in what most would call the Sounders dynasty.
Brad Evans, who was fortunate enough to play under Schmid in both Columbus and Seattle reflected on the character and personality he brought to each organization.
“He kind of really got himself ingrained in that like Columbus culture. He was kind of on an island. And he was really just like a soccer rat then, more than he was here in Seattle, or I think even in years prior” Evans told The Seattle Times.
“In Columbus there was no escape for him. The only escape was going in early and leaving late. And that’s what made that team successful, and I think that’s why that championship meant so much to him, “ Evans continued.
But it was in December of 2018 when both organizations were hit with the news that their beloved and pioneer coach, Sigi Schmid, had passed away, at the age of 65 that really ties these two franchises together.
Columbus and Seattle fans alike can attest to the fact that Schmid would be in attendance at MAPFRE Stadium when Columbus hosts Seattle in the 2020 MLS Cup Final on Saturday, but his rooting interest would be as neutral as they come. Both coaches — Porter and Schmetzer — reflected on the legacy and success Schmid.
Schmetzer: “He always liked coming to Columbus. He had fond memories here. Loved that he’s been a part of both franchises, sad that’s he’s not going to be here to witness this, but life goes on.”
The appreciation for Schmid remained the same for Porter. “You don’t forget legends. You don’t forget pioneers who have paved the way for you.”